Anarchic Cinema: The Idiots

Lars Von Trier

This installment might be a bit more of a clash of ideas rather than just exploring the idea of artistic anarchy in cinema. Just as there are regulated and unregulated systems of commerce and politics, the possibilities of systems in cinema follow the same principles. This may manifest in the forms of artistic movements and film theory, and it seems that every five years or so, a new one emerges. In regards to conceptual artistic anarchy in film, there truly are only a handful of movements and filmmakers that propagate the ideas of what may be considered Anarchic Cinema, some already covered in cursory terms are notably Nick Zedd, Andy Warhol, and the arena of Transgressive Cinema, which will be returned to as this series progresses. However, whereas complete cinematic anarchy can be claimed to be manifested in probably its most rawest form in the mold of transgressive movies, Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg’s Dogme 95 is an investigation to discover the same principles, but through extraordinary control and regulation. Herein lies the conflict.

Now, since Dogme 95 is probably one of the most controlled systems of people attempting to attain complete artistic integrity, how can an anarchic attitude exist? This lies more on the filmmakers of the movement rather than the ideals of Dogme 95 (which, I feel a fair point is to note that both Trier and Vinterberg have long since abandoned their creation). Dogme 95 is an emphasis on traditional values of story, acting and theme; which calls for the excluding of special effects and a heavy use of technology. When created, Dogme’s Vow of Chastity compounded this minimalist style that all films included in the Dogme ideal had to follow to be considered legitimate entries. This was a set of ten rules ranging from the forbidding of optical work and filters to the director must not be credited anywhere in the movie. All of this emphasis placed on minimalist stylization and restrictive components gave the filmmakers unique boundaries to create something brand new.

Though the movement as a whole has been declared dead since the release of Juan Pinzás’ El desenlace (2005), Dogme 95 currently sports 254 films. Regardless to how you may feel on the movement, they have a larger library than expressionism, impressionism and transgressivism lumped together, so there’s at least something to it. It began with Vinterberg’s The Celebration and von Trier’s The Idiots in 1998 and new additions have been continually added as recent as 2008 (Peter Neil’s Barbiere, IL). Due to its accessibility and the interest by filmmakers wanting recognition without being dependent on Hollywood-style budgets, Dogme 95 unexpectedly flourished as an indie movement when the then-present stranglehold of the 90s re-independent boom were led by directors like Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi), Steven Soderbergh (Sex, Lies & Videotape), Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing) the Coen Brothers (Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink), Richard Linklater (Slacker, Dazed & Confused) and Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs).

Though it would be safe to assume that creators von Trier and Vinterberg would possibly disagree with my interpretation of their movement, there are several aspects of Dogme 95 that heavily support basis for Anarchic Cinema.

Now, though some criticisms of Dogme 95 have been quite vicious, as of any movement, one of the more interesting critiques comes from Remodernist Cinema, a more recent filmmaking movement driven by Peter Rinaldi and Jesse Richards. Stated in the Remodernist Film Manifesto in 2008, Dogme 95 is “pretentious” and relatively unnecessary, as well as declaring remodernist film a calling for “new spirituality in cinema…stripped down, minimal, lyrical, punk kind of filmmaking”.

Though this is not a commentary on remodernist movies, all the movement appears to be is a modern attempt at a revitalization of No Wave Cinema, more of the vein of Jim Jarmusch and Amos Poe (Poe is sited as being either supportive of or part of remodernism), rather than Nick Zedd and Richard Kern in Transgressive Cinema from which I feel Dogme 95 (at least in part) evolved. This is of course not to discredit at all the movements and attitudes taking shape in European film around this time, but stating that the “world of film” is so interconnected, that changes in international art can be felt throughout the whole of the art community. Dogme, according to von Trier, “in a business of extremely high budgets, we figured we should balance the dynamic as much as possible.” Though strongly caste, it was the exploration of new ideas and film language from an entirely new direction. Transgressive movies were so short-lived due to its unstable and unsustainable style and impact. It was too extreme with their intention to use, abuse and shock their audience. It was not like the Grindhouse exploitation flicks of the 70s, which one commentator likened to an attempt at pornography. Dogme was founded with a desire to shock the audience, but through a higher connectivity to the human condition rather than the bombastic craziness that confronted the audiences of No Wave.

This can suggest the films of Dogme are even closer to exploring the boundaries of the human psyche, creativity and sociopolitical climates of their age than that of Trangressive Cinema. Dogme 95 is something that can be called naturalistic nihilism. Naturalism is a perspective embracing the conception that nothing exists beyond the natural universe or, if it does, it does not affect the natural universe. And when reviewing the Vow of Chastity, it follows this idea very specifically. There is an almost dogmatic concentration on the story and the performances to engage audiences, rather than potentially alienating or distracting by overproduction. Props could not be used if they were not already on set, no light could be manipulated, and only diegetic sound could be used. All of the restrictions support the idea Dogme was less the exploration of what minimalist filmmaking could provide with no boundaries and became more of an obsessive pursuit of it, very much in the vein of the French New Wave, which of course was one of the primary influences on independent, counterculture and then mainstream filmmaking the world over since the 1950s.

Written by Matthew Roe. Published: February 16, 2017

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